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PAREX or PARES?

Much has already been written and said about the proposal by San Miguel Corporation (SMC) to build an elevated expressway atop (or along the banks) of the Pasig River. The project is called the Pasig River Expressway or PAREX. Although it has caught the attention of the public quite recently, the idea or concept is something that was already brought up and studies even before SMC took it up. I recall seeing this concept and even discussing about this with a close friend who was involved in modeling the traffic for an elevated highway along the Pasig River during the PNoy administration for the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The MMDA then was chaired by someone who is now a senator of the country. There was apparently no opposition then for this project that probably was dismissed or shelved as it had no takers at the time. Fast forward to the present and the concept was picked up or somehow fell into SMC. The latter did some work on it, pitched it to government and, one way or another, got it approved. Being a major project under a high profile company pitched to a government that went by its “build, build, build” slogan, it wasn’t so difficult to get this hyped.

Opposition to the PAREX comes from a broad mix of professionals, environmentalists and civil society groups who questioned not just the idea or concept but the process that led to government practically giving the green light for this project. Some have countered that perhaps, instead of PAREX there should be PARES. PARES would be a Pasig River Esplanade, inspired by the Iloilo River Esplanade. Maybe this is a better option. Maybe we could even have a tramline along the river if the ROW permits it. Or, perhaps instead of an elevated expressway (with the BRT and bike lane add-ons that were obviously included to soften the image of the tollway) there can be a elevated monorail along the Pasig River. This can be designed to have a minimal footprint and could certainly have branches such as one along the Marikina River. These two options alone provide alternatives that SMC should at least consider and study very well. The options might give the company a way to save face (literally and figuratively).

Is it difficult to understand the phenomena of induced demand?

I’m sharing a recent article that laments about how transport departments in the US seemingly don’t understand the concept and phenomena of induced demand. Is it really difficult to understand or are transport officials including highway planners and engineers deliberately ignoring what’s staring them in the face?

Zipper, D. (September 28, 2021) “The Unstoppable Appeal of Highway Expansion,” Bloomberg City Lab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-09-28/why-widening-highways-doesn-t-bring-traffic-relief [Last accessed: 10/10/2021]

Partially completed road widening along a road in Batangas – was this necessary given the traffic in the area before, during and after this pandemic?

The topic in the article is very much applicable to our own Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The DPWH’s key performance indicators (KPIs) need to change from the typical “kilometers of road constructed” or “lane-kilometers of roads widened” to something like “travel time between points A and B”. Agencies like the DPWH always like to claim they are for solving traffic congestion but we already know widening roads just won’t cut it. It has to be more comprehensive than that and involve the entire transport system rather than just a part (i.e., the road). And it has to be a collaborative effort with various other agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and local government units. Unfortunately, too, these agencies like the DOTr and those under it, and many (not all) LGUs also like to go at it solo so we end up with piecemeal solutions that are also often out of context.

On the STAR Tollway, some recent photos

A trip earlier this year allowed me to take a few photos of the STAR Tollway. STAR stands for Southern Tagalog Arterial Road, which was what the expressway was before it became a tollway. I have memories of this being a regular highway in the early 1990s. Then, it was still a two lane road and there were even animals walking around and at times crossing the highway. Later, even after it became an expressway, the ROW was still not secured (i.e., fenced) so motorists would regularly encounter animals creating unsafe situations to both.

Approaching the entrance to the STAR Tollway
Toll plaza at the entry
Speed limits – the maximum speed limit is 100 kph while the minimum speed limit is 60 kph. There is an interesting sign just before the speed limits. It states “No overtaking on impulse”.
Typical overpass for traffic crossing the tollway
Rest stop – there are only Petron stations along either direction of the tollway. San Miguel owns Petron and operates the tollway
A typical curve section
Sight distance requirements are satisfied for straight, level segments like this.
Typical off-ramp from the tollway

Noticeable in the photos are the wide medians. These are typically used for expansion (i.e., additional lanes) when the time comes that the capacity of the tollway is no longer enough to cater to the demand. Both the NLEX and SLEX used to have these wide medians that are now part of the motorway. Are there alternate uses or purposes for this median? Perhaps, and this has been done abroad, one could fit bicycle paths there? Or maybe install solar panels to generate power? Or maybe do both?

On the other benefits of cycling – pavements

Here is a very interesting article that tackles a not so obvious benefit of switching to cycling:

Dion, R. (July 12, 2021) Biking’s Billion-Dollar Value, Right Under Our Wheels,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/113986-bikings-billion-dollar-value-right-under-our-wheels?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07262021&mc_cid=51555c9a39&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 8/4/2021]

To quote: “A strategic switch to biking would dramatically reduce the depth of roads, saving untold billions over the next generation.”

This is relevant from the perspective of highway engineering particularly concerning pavement design, construction and maintenance. It is intriguing, too, since pavement design (and consequently pavement thickness) is not necessarily correspondent to light vehicle traffic volumes. In the Philippines, for example, only heavy vehicles are considered for the pavement load estimation. It is assumed that light vehicle traffic, which compose most of the traffic along roads contribute mainly to pavement weathering rather than structural aspects.

On riders’ perception of safety

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the US Department of Transportation released some infographics recently to highlight road safety. One very timely and relevant graphic image asks about which facilities make bicycle riders feel safer:

There were some initial reactions when I shared this on social media with one immediately criticizing share-use paths and citing the one along Marcos Highway (stretch under Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) as an example. I quickly explained that the graphic assumes good designs instead of the flawed one along Marcos Highway. In fact, the shared use path is also quite popular in Europe and particularly in the Netherlands where they have many examples of these paths stretching for kilometers that are exclusive to active transport (pedestrians and cyclists). The good designs need to be shared and circulated so people will know about what they look like and learn about their features. These can be adopted and adapted to local situations.

Did you notice the images of cyclists/riders at the top of the graphic? These are important, too, because they provide context in terms of the type of riders who are the targets for infrastructure and campaigns that support and promote cycling across different types of people. Cycling shouldn’t just be for the most fit or the weekend warriors but rather for everyone who could take it up and not just for recreation but for everyday, utilitarian use (e.g., commuting, shopping, etc.).

On how animals can safely cross highways

Here is a quick share of an article regarding animal crossings and roads/highways:

I thought the article was interesting not just because it featured animal crossings but because the very same ideas and design interventions may be adopted for humans as well. Indeed, there will be cost implications but that is only because we have been accustomed to designs that favor car use more than the movement of people. Perhaps we should rethink how we design infrastructure such as our roadways for them to be favoring active transport and employing more nature or environment-friendly features.

Inter-island bridges in the Philippines – Nice to have but not necessary at this time?

A news article came out yesterday, reporting on the shelving of several inter-island bridge projects as well as the progress of only 3 projects include the Panguil Bay Bridge. Many of these projects have been conceptualized a long time ago but were being fleshed out through various feasibility studies.

Bridges fall down the BBB priority list

I’ve written before about these bridges, and had a healthy discussion among friends about the merits and demerits of such infrastructure when there are other, more urgent projects that would probably have higher impacts. One friend was involved in studying the connection between Panay and Negros islands, and had concluded that the cost can be justified by the economic benefits brought about by the bridge. I disagreed, stating the costs could cover modern urban transit systems at least in the major cities of Iloilo and Bacolod.

With limited resources and the likelihood of these projects being funded from various foreign loans make them unpalatable since these will mean more debt for the country. Also, these projects will benefit fewer people compared to other transport projects including modernizing public transportation and building bike lane networks. The latter kinds of projects are for daily commuters whereas the bridges are more for occasional travelers. What do you think?

On the RFID fiasco

Early December 2020, Metro Pacific Corporation suddenly had to deal with jam-packed toll plazas and queues that affected roads connecting to the North Luzon Expressways. Fast-forward and Valenzuela City apparently had enough of it and revoked the tollway corporation’s business permit. Later, matters were resolved with the tollways reverting to mixed toll collection to manage the queues at the toll plazas.

Prior to this, tollways corporation scrambled to meet the deadline set and re-set by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) for contactless, cashless toll payments. The question is if there was enough time for tollway operators to acquire the best (not just the minimum required) system for this endeavor. There are some opinions that this was basically required on short notice and for the government to get some brownie points for this.

Were there issues about technology and the corresponding costs to the acquisition and deployment of the necessary devices for seamless, contactless, delay-free (in relative terms) transactions for tollways? Probably so. Those RFIDs and the readers installed at strategic locations along tollways (i.e., entries and exits) were certainly not state of the art or the best available out there. Singapore, for example, uses a more sophisticated system for their expressways where you no longer have toll plazas and you won’t have to slow down to be detected by the system. That system has corresponding costs but is perfect for the city state given that most roads are tolled anyway because of their road pricing policy. In the case of our tollways, not all travelers are actually going to utilize the tollways as frequently as it would necessitate them having to get either the Easy Trip or Auto Sweep tags. That is obvious from the relatively low penetration rates for electronic toll collection (ETC). So it still makes sense to have hybrid booths for those not availing the ETC option. Anyway, travelers will have to exercise disinfection protocols to ensure infections are prevented.

Paved paradise? On pollution due to asphalt roads and parking lots

Here’s another quick share of an article mainly about asphalt as a material used for roads, parking lots and roofs:

Pullano, N. (2020) “Sun-heated streets can lead to air pollution strikes – study”, Inverse,¬†https://www.inverse.com/science/summer-streets-beat-the-heat?link_uid=15&utm_campaign=inverse-daily-2020-09-03&utm_medium=inverse&utm_source=newsletter [Last accessed: 9/6/2020]

While we have a significant number of roads with asphalt paving or surfacing, the majority of roads are of Portland cement concrete (PCC). Most lots are also PCC or gravel. And unlike in the US, most roofs here are made of galvanized iron (GI) sheets or even clay tiles.

On making roads safer for students

Here is a nice article from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine about how transportation research makes roads safer for students as they go back to school:

Transportation research makes the road safer for students to get back to school

There is a wealth of information there, and one should browse and perhaps download resources shared that can be useful references not just for those in North America but elsewhere towards making journeys between homes and schools.

Scene near a public school in Zamboanga City [photo taken in June 2019]

We, too, have several initiatives towards making the journeys of children safer between their homes and schools. It is something that all of us find essential and worthwhile. Children, after all, represent our future and making their journeys safer gives them better chances to succeed in life. It also shows them examples that they can replicate for their own future children. I will write more about these as we obtain the data and perform our assessment.